Poetry as a Form of Journaling for Inner Peace

Braydon Dungan, Writing Consultant

Journaling has become a common method for many individuals looking to begin a journey of healing and mindfulness. Journaling can be a great way to write down one’s thoughts as they come, removing any unwanted images that revolve around our mind and evicting them onto a sheet of paper. Something about taking the thoughts inside our head and placing them onto something tangible allows us to feel seen, to feel heard, to feel listened to.

Trauma can show itself in many forms and can arise from a variety of different circumstances. I know peers who experience trauma due to the death of a loved one, the effect of a poor mental health diagnosis, or the aftereffects of an abusive relationship. For me, I’ve struggled with speaking out about the trauma I’ve endured at the hands of those who wished to manipulate and abuse me. I’ve been conditioned to compartmentalize the abuse I’ve endured, and I’ve had to learn how to process the pain of the past in a way conducive to my own healing and mental health.

For some, journaling doesn’t have that helpful effect that it does on others. Journaling can seem difficult to maintain on a consistent basis, and it can often seem like an obstacle in a day already filled with plenty of challenges. In result, I’ve attempted to shift from journaling to writing poetry. Now, I don’t see myself as any sort of talented writer of poetry whatsoever; in fact, I’ve never really had much formal training in writing poetry at all. Still, I wanted to give it a shot due to my inadequacy at maintaining a consistent journaling schedule.

I’ve noticed that when I use poetry as a form of journaling, I’m able to ruminate and process the thoughts I have much more carefully than when I journal in a stream-of-consciousness manner. When I journal, I don’t really think about what I’m thinking… I simply recognize the thought in my head, transfer it to paper, and move onto the next thought.

With poetry, I force myself to visualize the words that swirl in my head, and I have to create abstract images and metaphors that relay the emotions I want to communicate to my intended audience. I don’t worry about poetry structure or rhythm; instead, I solely focus on the words, themselves, and the power each word brings to my page.

One of the most common manners I write poetry is directly towards an individual in my life. Sometimes, I write poetry about my family, and I allow myself to process and reflect on the love and positive emotions I have towards them. On the other hand, I also write about people who have pained me in the past, individuals who have taken it upon themselves to incur manipulation, deceit, and hate into my life.

I want to include a short poem I wrote in the middle of the night upon waking up from a trauma-induced nightmare:

my fear of drowning.

there were nights i used to wonder

if the void was worth the risk

of taking that first breath of water

i never wanted to feel it burn

like it did in the nightmares i had

of you with anybody else but me

I wasn’t sure how I could illustrate exactly how I felt. I didn’t want to write down what happened in my nightmare and force myself to relive it; instead, I just wanted to process what had happened, and one of the most effective ways to do this was by comparing my trauma to the painful act of drowning. I didn’t write this to wallow in my sorrows or to draw attention to myself; I wrote this for me, for healing, for the place I want to be, the place I strive to get to every day of my life.

Now, when I talk to those around me who struggle with their own trauma and mental health challenges, I encourage them to use poetry as journaling.

And now, I challenge you; take a moment, close your eyes, and allow whichever thoughts that naturally creep in to be recognized and not shoved away. Take five minutes and write yourself a quick poem; think of metaphors, images, senses. Don’t worry about rhyming or the structure of your poem—just write!

I can assure you that after writing your poem, you will feel more clearheaded than you did before. Let’s all take an opportunity out of our hectic, challenging days to ruminate on our thoughts and turn them into something beautiful, powerful, and tangible.

The Importance of Breaks in Academia

Charlie Ward, Writing Consultant

At times, it may feel as though education is all consuming. As a student, your life — and, ultimately, your identity — becomes entrenched by course readings and research projects. For me, balancing the mental load of helping writers with their projects — while also trying to do my own writing projects — becomes a bit too much around the middle of the semester. I love helping people, but I often forget to help myself. The pressure I feel to be the perfect consultant, the perfect student, the perfect child, and the perfect partner all become too much to handle; the pressures of academia make me sick with anxiety. I know it’s okay to cry — and hopefully that’s a lesson you’re learning, too — but you need other coping methods. Sometimes, you need to take a break.

It may also feel as though you don’t have much time for anything beyond academics; the idea of taking time for yourself may cause you guilt and anxiety. The relentless “culture of productivity,” or, the social climate that reinforces overworking yourself, may make it difficult for you to feel like you can take a break. But you can — and I’m here to tell you that.

Here are some tips that may help you:

Force yourself to take a break.

Realistically, this is step one: humans need time to breathe, time to create, and time to be comforted. It’s easier said than done, but don’t let “productivity culture” make you feel like you can’t take a few minutes to yourself. Don’t let peers dissuade you, either. Painting a still life, going for a walk, listening to your favorite album, or even just looking outside are great ways to readjust mentally.

I know I’m kind of preaching to the choir here, but this time to destress is crucial. If you’re a planner, plan your break; if you’re spontaneous, stop your work early one evening. Time to relax will prevent an inevitable breakdown, whether it be the result of an overloaded schedule or other excruciating factors. This break time has helped me through hard times — I promise everything will sort itself out.

Keep work and home separate.

I’m not referring to physical space here, but rather the workload between work and home. I usually do the majority of my work for the upcoming week during my weekends; however, I only allow myself to work from 9 am – 5 pm. By giving myself the evening to relax, I’m able to get up the next morning more motivated to work. Try to find an hour where you stop working: a huge weight will be lifted off your shoulders.

Try not to talk too much about work when not at work. I know this is seemingly impossible — I definitely fall into ruts where I talk about nothing but my work — but you need to find something else to talk about. You can talk about the weather, you can talk about the new Netflix special you just watched, or you can commiserate on how much you hate the month of January — it just needs to be something not related to work. It will help give your brain a break from the constant stresses of academia.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

There comes a time where we need a bit more than a break: things can become too much, things can become too loud, and things can become impossible to do on your own. When this happens, it’s more than okay to ask for help.

The cultural stigma against mental health can make it difficult to ask for help; these situations are exacerbated by feelings of guilt and anxiety, whether they be the result of academia or other factors. Conversations around the importance of breaks and community are extremely important in promoting self-advocacy.


I understand the hesitation towards taking a break, especially for students and people who just need to get stuff done. On the other hand, I also understand what it looks like when you don’t take a break: I’ve had semesters where I stopped showing up to classes, semesters where I’ve dropped classes, semesters where I failed classes. I was too scared to ask for help, and I had dug myself into a rut — productivity had clouded my ability to think clearly, and ultimately, I felt the only way I could cope with the stress was to stop being me for a while. This sounds dark, but I just want to emphasize the importance of making time for yourself.

In graduate school, I made a pact with myself to always take time if I need it. I made a pact that I would always take an hour or two to do whatever I want, even when my workload seems endless. I’m not here to tell you that I’ve been entirely without anxiety, but I’ve been able to stay above water — and that’s okay!

This semester, remember to take a break. It doesn’t matter whether it’s five minutes or five hours: take time to understand who you are and what makes you happy. Try to bottle up that happiness — whether it be memories of your pets or how the sun makes you feel — and look back on it in moments of stress. You can always change your assignments or your research, but don’t let them change you.

Writing Yourself into Your Future

Christina Davidson, Writing Consultant

The start of a new year lends itself to thoughts of beginnings. The gentle rhythms inspired by the calendar year can be wonderful reminders of work we intend to do in our own lives. I’d like to use this space to invite you to do a little deeper work than just forming a resolution to meet a few goals. I’d like to suggest the use of writing as a way to dig into discovering what you want out of your academic career, where you want to go, and how you intend to get there. I’d also like to ask you to consider how using your assigned writing tasks can accomplish these purposes, too.

First, try to think back to one of your earliest writing projects. For me, I immediately think of my very first course in research writing that I took my freshman year. I was excited to take this class since I had always loved to write. However, after the opening class session of the course, I found myself full of anxiety about how to create a proper research paper. I remember thinking to myself, “What is APA exactly? – and how in the world do I format in-text citations?” This is certainly hilarious to me now considering my current position on our campus, but it illustrates what I’d like you to think about today. Everything you choose to pursue in life will have a beginning. And writing is a great way to take yourself into a new identity you’ve never held before.

Our Program Assistant, Maddy, as well as our Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing, Kendyl, explored these ideas in recent posts, asking us to fully accept the identity of a writer. Today, I’m asking you to think of the other identities your writing may ask you to accept. In my earlier example, I decided to claim “researcher” as a title. In other courses it may have been “poet” or “essayist”, or in this instance, the title of “blogger” becomes something I can write myself into.  Each new writing task can provide us with an opportunity to step into a new future.

I’d like to turn to my original example of “researcher” because I think it is of particular relevance in the spring term. Many college freshmen will be taking ENGL 102 this semester and developing a research project for the very first time. If this pertains to you, I ask you to consider how you can take your class assignment and make it meaningful for your future. What kind of research interests you most? Where do you see yourself headed in your academic and professional career? Many times, we may feel we will assume some kind of professional authority once we graduate or achieve the job we desire in our field. I have certainly felt this way in my own professional experience. But in truth, our voices are developing now. The research work one does in an ENGL 102 course can begin to “write into” a new field and a new professional identity. And if we fully adopt this idea, suddenly all our coursework can achieve a profound relevance into the development of our futures.

Once you have embraced the title of “researcher”, I would like to invite you to take it one step further and to share your discoveries with others. You might be amazed at how your learning will deepen once you make this critical move.  One wonderful opportunity to do this is at the UofL Undergraduate Arts and Research Showcase. I was fortunate enough to serve as a judge for this showcase in the spring of 2022. I was so impressed with the work presented by UofL students, as well as the collegial spirit in the room. If interested, your chance to get involved will arrive soon; abstracts are due by April 17, 2023.

The University Writing Center is a great place to obtain feedback on any research project. If you are considering becoming a part of the Arts and Research showcase, please come in and talk with a consultant. We can help you to review your project, plan out your poster presentation, and even help with writing the application.

The new year is a great time to reflect on the previous year and to focus upon what you would like to accomplish in the next. Give yourself time to think about how your own writing, be it assigned by an instructor or personal writing, can be a way to lead into your goals. Sometimes all it takes is a new perspective to make all the difference in how we view our writing. We can deepen the meaning in our assigned writing by considering how it fits into the larger picture of our future goals. At the writing center we look forward to working with all writers this semester as we aim toward our futures as writers, researchers, poets, essayists, bloggers – wherever writing may lead!

New Year, New You: Writing Resolutions for 2023

Annmarie Steffes, Associate Director

A few weeks into 2023, here at the University Writing Center, we are already abuzz with thrilling conversations about writing. I don’t know about you, but for me, the new year and the start of a new semester hold the wonderful promise of new beginnings. I daydream about being someone else, or at least a better version of myself: Annmarie 2.0. For instance, in 2022, I vowed to become chef Annmarie, whipping up unburnt baked goods weekly and, of course, using all the veggies in the fridge long before they wilt in despair.

If you wonder if I ever achieve these goals, the answer is no I do not. You probably saw that coming. Researchers could easily use me as one data point proving that New Year’s resolutions do not work.

But here’s the thing about creating these new identities: they do lead me to experiment with new habits. In my efforts to become a chef, I mustered the courage to roast a whole chicken, to make broth from the carcass, and then to concoct a soup (without a recipe no less). I could not have had the courage for those tasks if I had not first envisioned myself as a chef. The fantasy that I had of myself as a future Gordon Ramsey allowed me to take risks and venture into territory I would never have explored otherwise.

In the Writing Center, we often ask writers to imagine their audience for their text. Who are you writing to? What are the expectations of your audience? What background or experiences might they have and how does that influence their perspective? This sort of daydreaming has led me to write more compelling prose as I aim to foster a relationship with the person on the receiving end of my paper.

But, what if we as writers spent time imagining other identities for ourselves? In my appointments, I often hear people visiting us for the first time apologizing for being a “bad writer” or say, as Kendyl and Maddy said last year, that they are not writers at all. Believing that “bad writer” or “not a writer” is an unchangeable fact about us limits our writing strategies and narrows our ambitions.

And so, I encourage you to think about what new writing identity you might try adopting and performing this spring semester. You may not believe it yet but playing the part might prompt you to develop new habits, take more risks, and shift what you think is possible for yourself. Let’s say I am writing a research paper about climate change. How might my writing change when instead of seeing myself as an amateur determined to showcase all my knowledge to my professor, I imagine myself to be a climate change expert writing my action plan to a panel of key government and business leaders? I would state my views more assertively, treat sources as my peers rather than merely authority figures, and strive to make my proposal attractive to those in power. I approach my writing differently.

In addition to inspiring a dose of confidence, role playing writerly identities can help you understand other points of view, thereby cultivating a more empathetic attitude and writing more nuanced arguments. For instance: How might I write this essay if I positioned myself as an opponent of this social or political issue rather than an advocate for it? Or perhaps: What might I write if I imagined myself as a specific person in the debate or this one particular theorist? Everything we write does not have to be the end-all be-all of what we believe; we can embody different positions and attitudes, try them on for size, jump up and down, wiggle around in them, see how they fit.

Now, I do not advocate for inauthenticity, nor do I recommend never writing from you own embodied reality. What is considered formal or correct academic writing is often middle-class, standard white English and prizes certain evidence, experience, or support over other kinds. Higher education needs diversity of viewpoints and identities to challenge this hierarchy and offer important correctives. But reimagining your identity as an author can be a useful process to clarifying what your writing identity actually is, apart from what you believe your professor wants it to be.

As a teacher myself, I know that faculty play an important role in creating an educational environment that allows for students to play and explore who they might be as writers. In their 2015 book Hospitality and Authoring: An Essay for the English Profession, Richard and Janis Haswell challenge teachers to trust the student’s writing and imagine the singularity of the person behind it, reading the choices of text in a way that “seeks the conditions that might have understandably or humanely led to it” (92). When we see complicated and complex jargon, for instance, don’t assume that students cannot write; they are trying to embody the person of the chemist, the engineer, the humanities scholar using the examples given to them, and isn’t that what we want? Guide them on how to adopt that identity with more credibility or challenge them to write from a myriad of perspectives.

We might not be a Joan Didion, a Herman Melville, a James Baldwin, or an Isabel Allende yet—but we also might surprise ourselves.

Healing Trauma Through Writing

Elizabeth Pope, Writing Consultant

Writing is academic, scholarly, and creative in genres of poetry, prose, fiction, or creative non-fiction. Writing is publishable, presentable at conferences, or shoved into a drawer never to look at again. As a woman and first year Ph.D. student with an M.A. in English Literature and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, I value the integrity of writing as an art form. At the same time, I honor writing as an inclusive act of expression that extends beyond degree, career, or publication. Writing held my hand through tough times, and it is this practice of writing as an act of healing that transcends art, craft, or accolade. Writing is primordial as hieroglyphics and essential as meditation. Writing is also a friend, prayer, and eternal question.  

On February 11, 2022, I began to write again for the first time since the pandemic began after graduating in the summer of 2020 with my M.F.A. and entering the chaos of new systems of public virtual schooling for my daughters, while my husband worked as an essential worker within Covid-units, Covid-tent construction, and Covid-vaccine construction as an electrical contractor within hospitals. In February, I began a recovery journey with my daughter after her spinal fusion, years of physical therapy with Norton Neuroscience and Spinal Rehabilitation Center, and preparatory surgery appointments at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. When her spinal curve entered a degree that was detrimental to her heart and lungs, during the height of the pandemic, we had to wait until she was of age for vaccines to proceed with the spinal fusion with the intention of limiting possible complications. I was not able to write through this time of preparing for her surgery. It was hard to comprehend her vulnerability, complexity of the surgery, and pain of her recovery. It was not until her time in the hospital that I was able to speak about the actual surgery, ask her team of doctors about anatomy, and specifics of what occurred during her spinal fusion. I began to write about the process of her immediate post-surgery in the hospital during times that she slept without interruption from nurses, pain teams, or doctors. During these quiet and dim moments in the hospital room, I wrote about uncertainties, reliefs from a successful surgery, anatomy of the spine (an aspect that I was unable to confront until post-surgery was successful), and the hardships of seeing someone that I love in immense pain.

What I wrote in the late hours of the hospital room was what I was unable to verbalize with doctors, nurses, family, and friends. I wrote about the relief that overshadowed lack of sleep, uncertainty of home recovery, and life after post-recovery. In a pandemic and post-pandemic world the hospital is a healing but isolating place. It provides a quiet introspection that is lonely if an outlet is not provided. Writing was the healing outlet for me as art therapy was a healing outlet for my daughter and other patients. I was not singular in writing as a method of connecting with presence of the tasks at hand, fears of the possibility of what might have gone wrong, what was going wrong, or as a way to connect to support systems who were unable to visit the hospital during the de-escalation of heightened Covid-19 concerns. CaringBridge is a media outlet that is provided to parents, guardians, and caregivers who have patients within hospital settings.  

There are nights you can see screens within patient’s rooms glowing from parents updating their CaringBridge accounts for friends, family, or their child’s friends—who are also support systems outside of the hospital. Time seems to evaporate inside rooms of a hospital. Days are nights and nights are days. Moments are fast paced or desolate when the child is resting. It is in those quiet moments that writing in a journal, social media outlet, text, email, or mode of connection like CaringBridge provides parents moments of reflection and expression after hours, days, weeks, months, or years of attempting to remain calm and collected through high-stress environments. The act of putting what is unspoken to paper allows the stress of an experience to transform from what is carried, or what is afraid to be said, into an acceptance that is tangible. Writing, in this way, is a reconciliation with traumas that are unrecognizable and carried through complicated and demanding situations. Writing in this way is also a reflection, retrospection, and method of measuring what is overcome.

Writing, in a recovery or hospital setting, allows for articulate and direct conversations with doctors, teams, and nurses. Writing allowed me to move past emotional responses of worry, frustration, and sadness to arrive at rationality that allowed for focus on immediate questions such as: if her pain management is not working what other option might be enacted immediately? Writing is an act of presence and hope that if the trauma is shared—even if it is an unrecognizable trauma—it is no longer a secret, fear to harbor, or shame to suppress. In this way writing is an act of healing.

I did not keep any of the writings from the surgery, in hospital, recovery, or homecare recovery. I erased it all. Her struggle to process her own traumatic event was not something that I wanted her to relive or that I wanted to relive. Although she is fully recovered and the surgery is a distant memory, there was a time when our inability to communicate shared fears and grief was stalled. After the experience and anticipation of the surgery, writing offered moments of connection to what was difficult, hopes of a better life for someone that I loved, and reflections of strengths that I witnessed in my child. I wrote to remember moments when she encountered specific obstacles with bravery, such as when she began to walk again downstairs (one step, two feet at a time) when she walked long distances outside of a wheelchair, and when she ran and slid into a homerun in her softball league this summer. I wrote to remind her that obstacles in life are inevitable, she overcame them once, so in the future she will overcome them again. I wanted to remember moments that she did not give up, overcame something hard, and moments that it was important to simply listen and not speak except into paper and ink.

What’s Writing to You? The Role of Writing in Living

Kendyl Harmeling, Assistant Director For Graduate Student Writing

As Assistant Director for Graduate Student Writing here at the University of Louisville Writing Center, I work at both the Belknap and Health Sciences campuses and frequently have conversations about writing with undergrads, grad students, faculty, and staff alike. In these interdisciplinary discussions, I often find myself told: “Well, we just don’t do a lot of writing in my field.” For a while, my response to this idea was to shrug and accept that, sure, maybe some fields are less writing-intensive than others. My response was not ideal for a number of reasons, but mainly because I was regularly shrugging off an opportunity to question the function of writing, its definitions, and how it changes across communities. Now in my response to this situation I ask: so, what is writing to you?

This languaging shift occurred for me when I was talking with a graduate student in the Dental program earlier this year, who was narrating their program path to me. They kept referring to their probable lack of Writing Center use because there was just no writing in their graduate program; no writing in a program means, of course, no need to visit the University Writing Center. But I was struck – how does a terminal degree program require no writing for their graduate students? I thought there must be something like writing going on there. To fill in the blanks, I began to think about the professional life of a practicing dentist and a flurry of questions came to me: Do dentists write? What do dentists write? What is writing to a dentist? And why do dental graduate students believe they don’t (or won’t) do it? Where’s the disconnect and what caused it?

I happen to know a handful of dentists and can confidently say that dentists write. Dentists are writers. Writing is a tool that dentists use, just like a tooth scraper or floss. My dentist writes me a prescription when necessary. He writes a regular newsletter for all his patients, outlining changes to insurance policies or scheduling systems. He publishes peer-reviewed articles in the major journals of his field on new technologies and techniques. He also writes me (and all his patients) holiday cards. Isn’t this all writing? What is writing if it’s not what my dentist does? What my dentist writes certainly looks different from what I write as a graduate student in the humanities and as a writing teacher, but the differences in the qualities and functions of our writing do not negate either of our claims to being a writer.  Our shared claims to being someone who does writing, for whom writing is a tool of our professions. The face of the writing might change—what its forms, functions, and goals are—but what remains is that we are writers writing.

If you read our Program Assistant Maddy’s blogpost from last week, you’ll learn that if you come to the UofL Writing Center, we’ll call you a “writer.” She does a lovely job writing about why we use this term, and the emotional state that you might find yourself in upon being given a title (like “writer”) that you might not feel comfortable claiming. This is the same response, to me, as when people tell me they don’t do a lot of writing in their field – there is a disconnect between what the general idea of “writing” is and the thing which people do, every day, in their professions and lives. I see this across stations and disciplines, from faculty and staff to graduate students to undergrad students in my English 101 classes. There is trepidation in claiming writing as a tool beyond the humanities, but the reality is quite different. You are a writer, and you do writing. You write, your field writes, and I’ll prove it.

Like my dentist who writes, although who might not claim the title “writer” over the title “dental professional,” we are all writing in our fields and in our lives. From my experience, this disconnect between identifying and claiming writing as a tool of our professions – of our identities in many ways – might come from the lofty myth of writing. This idea that writing must have its head in the clouds with its feet off the ground – that it must loft our better angels of ideas high into the sky where only theorists and artists can find it – is misplaced and misguided. Writing is a tool, and sometimes it can be lofty and heavy-hitting, but sometimes it’s just a vehicle for communication. When I write poetry, I feel like a “writer,” but, when I write text messages, or social media posts, or when I write an email to my boss – I am also a writer in these moments, a writer doing writing. And so are you.

A lawyer will tell you that writing is an essential tool in their profession, likewise a teacher or a professional writer. But so will hospital workers and medical professionals. Nurses doing rounds on call have to write PICO reports of their patients; similarly, they write prescriptions, emails to insurance companies or the billing department, and so many other micro-genres that populate the communicative avenues of their disciplines. A hospital administrator needs to write board reports, grant proposals, budgets, etc. A custodial-professional needs to write order lists and take inventory. An engineer needs to write grant proposals, blueprints, and proofs. A software designer writes code. A postal worker writes “Sorry I missed you” stickers when trying to deliver packages when you’re not home. And these are only examples of mono-modal genres.

None of these genres are any more “writing” than another. Their variance is part of what makes writing such an incredible, essential tool. Lofty or not, writing is about communication – and communication is a fundamental human experience. So, come by the University Writing Center to have a fundamentally human experience, to talk through what writing means to you, what it looks like, and what it does. More so, come by to talk about how the UWC can help you build a relationship with your and your field’s writing. Challenge yourself to question and analyze the role writing plays in your profession or program. Maybe, even, write about it.

Some reflective questions to begin analyzing your relationship with writing in your professional and personal life:

  1. What do you imagine the definition of “writing” is – what elements of a text must be present for it to be considered “writing”?
    1. Where and when did you learn this?
    1. What is the relationship between when/how this idea of “writing” formed for you and how it frames your relationship to writing today? In other words, how were you socialized into this view of “writing” and how has that socialization impacted how you view “writing” today?
  2. What genres (categories) of “writing” do you interact with daily – if we can accept that “writing” can mean any written (alphabetic or otherwise) communication?
  3. How is writing integrated into the systems you work within? How does it affect operations and functions of your workplace/space? What about in your personal life?
  4. Would you call yourself a writer – considering your creation of text with these genres and conventions? Why or why not?
    1. How many times do you have to write, and in how many ways, before you can call yourself a writer?

Of Course I’m a Writer: How Feedback Helps Shape Writing Identity

Maddy Decker, Program Assistant, Senior

I always hesitate to call myself a writer despite having wanted to be one since elementary school. It feels like I’m pretending to be something that I’m not, but I am a writer. I write. It’s that simple. Sometimes I just need some help reminding myself of that.

This past summer, I attended a week-long workshop as part of completing the requirements for my Creative Writing MFA. I was excited for the opportunity to get back in a workshop, but a part of me dreaded going. Since my program is low-residency, I was nervous about meeting my classmates and professors face-to-face for the first time. Additionally, the last workshop I had participated in made me a little hesitant about putting my work back out there. I dragged my feet while preparing until I finally speed-wrote two new flash pieces to bring with me, stuffing them into my overcrowded backpack and trying to pretend they didn’t exist.

I arrived at Chateau Lesbian (my friend and her wife refuse to let me call their apartment anything else), rolled my suitcase into the guest room, and then immediately left for my first required event. I was joining the second week of the residency, while most people had also attended the first week. It seemed like everyone already knew each other, and while they were all kind and welcoming, I was still intimidated. How would we work together in class? Would they still seem so nice after we picked apart each other’s stories?

I arrived the next day and tried to stay calm, but my efforts were thwarted when I abruptly remembered that my piece was up first for workshop. I was overwhelmed with concern about how weird and rushed and personal my writing was, but it was time to confront my fears. When prompted, I began reading: “This is called The Salami Kids…”

Workshop. Was. AMAZING! My classmates were generous with their feedback, both praise and criticism, and I loved every minute of it. My pen begged for mercy as I scribbled down notes and ideas for revision. Suddenly, I could see how to take everything a little bit further and tighten up the loose ends. My piece became more than just a page of words I’d thrown together to meet the submission deadline: it had potential, and I wanted to keep working on it. I felt a thousand times better. I felt like a writer.

Working the front desk at the University Writing Center, I often hear from other people who insist that they are not writers. I hear things like “I’m not a writer” or “I’m just doing this for class.” When I hear this, I respond, “Of course you’re a writer. You’re writing in here!” This doesn’t always seem to make a difference, but it’s important to me that I say it anyway.

When you visit the Writing Center, you are a writer, no matter what kind of writing you are working on. This is why you will often hear us refer to you as “writers” rather than clients or students. We want to reinforce the idea that you are someone who writes, and that you are allowed to call yourself a writer. In fact, this is something that we cover at orientation at the beginning of the year, because one of our top priorities is helping you to gain confidence and agency in your writing and your identity as a writer.

I have a BA and an MA in English, and I’m halfway through my Creative Writing MFA. I’ve written countless papers and stories of my own, and I’ve helped with so many more during the three years that I worked as a writing consultant. My work has been published, and I’ve even received awards for a couple of my short stories. When I step back and look at it objectively, it seems obvious to me that I’m a writer, but I still regularly face the fear of using that word for myself.

I share this to show that even someone with years of writing experience is still scared of being a “writer.” This is something that I confront daily, both for myself and with the writers who visit my desk. There is no cure-all, but there are steps you can take to grow your confidence and foster your writing identity. One of the most beneficial things that you can do is share your work with others. This helps you to become more involved with your process, as well as to take ownership of your words. Also, it’s exciting! Thinking out loud in collaboration with feedback from others can be so generative, and you’ll come up with ideas you hadn’t thought of before.

Read your work to your friends, share it with a writing group, or visit one of our consultants at the University Writing Center! We welcome all UofL students, staff, and faculty, and we work with all kinds of writing, at any point in the writing process. I hope that you visit and that when your appointment is over, you leave thinking, Of course I’m a writer!

The Shape of Writing: Halloween and Writing Go Hand-in-Hand

Andrew Messer, Writing Consultant

There was a conversation I had with Dr. Bronwyn Williams, the director of our community of writing consultants, where he told me that all spy movies are literacy narratives. Well, that got me thinking, truly thinking—and this may very well have been the first time I had a truly deep thought in months, coming fresh off of summer break at the time—about what other stories are technically literacy narratives. Some other types of action movies, sure. Superheroes? It’s possible to make that argument. However, fate would grant me a serendipitous revelation just as it was time to write up a blog post of my own. What better day to talk about the literacy of horror movies than today, Halloween? And better yet, is there a more apt movie to talk about than John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)? I think not.

We find literacy in Carpenter’s film in a variety of ways, most notably in the question of why Michael Myers wears his signature mask. There are a myriad of answers, and one of them is that he is trying to hide. The movie begins with Michael hiding from his sister before he, well… you know what happens. Michael isn’t just hiding his face though: he is hiding his ability to be read. He withholds from both the viewer and the other characters of the film the ability to be read and understood. It takes great effort, strife, horror, as well as some sleuthing for the characters to finally track down Michael from his old home to the killings he gets up to throughout the film. It takes a great deal of intellectual and psychological literacy for the doctor to track Michael across Haddonfield to his showdown with Laurie Strode.

Now, you might be wondering—I know I sure was—what has this to do at all with writing or writing center work. Great question! All of these aspects of literacy shown in Halloween started to remind me of something oddly familiar—the writing process itself. Fellow horror buffs may recall, but in the script for Carpenter’s film, Myers is referred to as the Shape; I think this is an apt metaphor for beginning the writing process, for what is the beginning of a draft but a vague shape? The Shape of drafting can be many things: procrastination, intimidation, a confusing prompt or topic, or even something as scary as a new or unfamiliar genre. The Shape finds a way to haunt all of us when we start the drafting process, and it tries to turn us into Bob if we let it.

Starting a paper is much like the events of this film: scary and disjointed without a lot to keep the threads together. Sometimes the meaning and message remains masked, if you’ll excuse the pun. Sometimes it can be something you feel like running from, avoiding it until the last minute. Sometimes you must be Laurie Strode and—metaphorically, of course—stab at your paper wildly with a knitting needle until something comes out loosely approximating what you are trying to accomplish. Either way, the Shape must be confronted to move forward, and often that is done by looking back on what you have accomplished in the past. Relying on your knowledge and the skills in literacy and writing that you have developed over many years of being a thoughtful and insightful human being.

And insightful you are. You are a writer and a reader all-in-one, and just like Laurie you will figure out what the Shape is. Though you may not always unmask it in the end, and sometimes when you think you have finished a draft the Shape will haunt you still. Yet again, just like Laurie, you are not alone. If need be, let the Writing Center be your Loomis: let us help you uncover the Shape of your writing because there is no need to face it alone. Writing, much like surviving a slasher, is a collaborative process—oftentimes taking much more planning and effort to overcome than previously thought possible. But we are here, and we know the Shape just as you do.

This all makes it seem so horrifying, and perhaps this analogy might scare you away from ever writing again. However, dear reader, if you are anything like me, then you will understand that pit in your stomach when you start to write something new. The Shape looming oppressively near you, watching from the corner and remaining masked and hidden from view. Yet, you must remember to always carry the will of Laurie Strode inside you. Clutch tightly to that knitting needle, cower for a moment if you need to, but in the end we all must face the Shape, and more often than not, we win in the end.

Happy Halloween, and happy writing!

Halloween. Directed by John Carpenter, Compass International Pictures, 1978.

Sustainability is More Than Science: Exploring Climate Change Education Across Cultures

Bronwyn T. Williams, Director

The weather report: Today in Louisville it is partly cloudy and 68 degrees. In Manila, Philippines it is 88 with thunderstorms. In Graz, Austria it is cloudy and 60 degrees, in Rustenburg, South Africa it 85 and sunny and in Sydney, Australia it is 63 and raining. If you are teaching a classroom of students about climate change in any of these places, their immediate experience of climate will be the transitory weather they see out the window. Yet, from the perspective of the global climate emergency, things look quite different. In Louisville and in Graz, there have been increases in flooding and heat emergencies in the summers. The Philippines continues to be battered by stronger and more frequent typhoons. The countryside around Sydney still shows scars of the unprecedented wildfires of 2020 and, in Rustenburg, increasing heat and drought conditions mean that sometimes students are sent home from school when there is no water.

Louisville students talk with South African students by video

Climate change is simultaneously global in scope, yet experienced locally in quite different ways. From the perspective of education, it can be a challenge to convey to students how what is happening to the climate is more than the immediate weather out the window, but also not as abstract as an image of a polar bear on an iceberg. Currently I’m involved in a climate change education project focused on thinking of new ways of learning – and writing – about climate change across cultures. This interdisciplinary education project is initially focused on connecting middle-school students from around the world share what they are learning – and experiencing – about how climate change affects their local communities. The researchers and teachers involved in the pilot stage of this Global Climate Change Education Project – from Austria, South Africa, the Philippines, Australia, and the US – will gather here at the University of Louisville next week for a planning conference funded by a Spencer Foundation grant. The goal of the project is to help students learn about climate change not only from the perspective of science, but also how it affects, and is affected by, history, politics, culture, and the media. We hope that making these kinds of human connections across cultures can make climate change seem less abstract and, as a result, can lead to a greater sense of empathy and an increased commitment to the behavioral change and political action required to address the climate emergency.

The project brings together teachers and researchers from the sciences, education, and social sciences, and all have crucial roles to play in our planning. But, from my perspective as a literacy researcher and writing teacher, I also see writing and communication as key parts both of how students learn about climate change, and how they will communicate with people in their communities and with their peers across cultures. Part of what intrigues me about working on this project are the interdisciplinary possibilities. The science part of it is crucial, of course, but issues of sustainability are also about culture and community. And our explorations of culture and community are through science, but also through stories, history, poetry, images, film, and more. If we are to communicate and build relationships across cultures, we need to understand more about place and identity, and how those shape both science and our daily lives. What’s more, there is substantial research that indicates that what persuades people to act on social issues is not only facts and evidence-based reasoning, but also narratives, emotions, and relationships.

So I’ve found myself thinking about how science, art, narrative, oral history, poetry, and more might be brought together in climate change education, both in this project and others. This raises questions that are shaping many of my research and teaching interests right now. How is sustainability more than science? How must we also explore and examine issues of culture, community, history, and relationships in terms of climate change? What experiences and relationships motivate people toward action in a given context? How do we promote agency in students? And how is all of that mediated through interpreting and creating texts – both in print, but also in sound, video, images and other media and modes?

In exploring these, and other questions about location, culture, and sustainability, I am also interested in how we can use digital technologies to create these kinds of texts and opportunities for communication. We’ve already been doing some pilot projects among the students involving writing, video, and other forms of communication. Down the line we may explore other ideas, such as possibly creating a digital repository of student climate change narratives, interviews, podcasts and more, where people can upload video or audio or print and then they are available to others for teaching and research. Sharing this kind of writing would be another way to get students communicating about local knowledge across cultures and, I hope, increasing knowledge and empathy.

We are in the early days of this project, but I am eager for the conversations and work we will engage in next week in the planning conference and to think about how writing and literacy will play a role in climate change education going forward. As a teacher and researcher I have always been interested in the knowledge people have in their daily lives and how we draw on that, and connect it, to issues and ideas in school. I believe that, to engage in kind of broad-based change needed to address the climate emergency we need to explore new perspectives for that are grounded in local knowledge, languages, and cultures. We’re taking what we hope will be a helpful steps next week for learning and action across communities and cultures. Stay tuned.

Dr. Strangeword or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love to Write (Allusion)

Wendell Hixson, Writing Consultant

There is no need to be an “expert!” Far too many writers, readers, students, and scholars see writing as requiring the gravest of literary circumstances. Many believe that writing must possess grandiloquence, gravitas, gratitude, grammaticality, and—especially—graftiquilimentiploricissitudinousness (neologism; I trust you’ll look up everything in italics that you don’t know). However, the magical qualities of writing, of your voice lie not in some Ivory Tower, swirling in the minds of some rhetorical warlock or literary lich (alliteration), but at your very fingertips. The unhindered imagination can create entertaining and enjoyable examples of writing without a need for scholarly expertise.

As two francophone thinkers posited, “Literary history seems deliberately to ignore writing as practice, as work, as play” (Thomas and Motte 98). And they’re, frankly, dead on. I live by the mantra that one should have fun with their writing. Fun can be the driving farce (malapropism) behind the most successful research and prose, as fun is usually the best motivator. Sometimes the very essence of rewarding, valuable writing is held not in researched ideas, dense argumentation, or scholarly opinion. Sometimes the very essence of rewarding writing is just having a chuckle at a simple and silly play on words. And sometimes you may end up learning the difference between the endless devices and playful maneuvers found within the English language, and the unique devices within other languages as well.

Perhaps you’ll come across words like (and, yes, these are all real) lipogram, chiasmus, petrosomatoglyph, epizeuxis, bdelygmia, clerihew, butyraceous, syzygy, ekphrasis, bibliobibuli, zeugma, absquatulate, phantasmagoric, lugubriousness, floccinaucinihilipilification, hippopotomonstrosesquipedalian, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, and jib. Perhaps you’ll even use them. This is the fun of language: the exploration and wonder of the gift we’ve so luckily evolved. It operates much like a magic, a power with which we can create meaning and reality out of nothingness. Most any sounds, amalgam of letters, and absurd or beautiful stories develop our very understanding of this powerful tool (e.g. The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows or Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons). Language is a boundless, bottomless ocean that we are rarely encouraged to truly navigate. Language can be morphed into humorous contests, such as Monty Python’s Word Association Football or Rosencrantz & Guildenstern’s Questions Game (both of which I recommend watching). Language can be manipulated for the sake of art, such as Edgar Allan Poe’s extended vocabulary or Lewis Carroll’s fantastical prose (read “The Bells” and/or “Jabberwocky”). Language can be invented for the sake of worldbuilding, such as Star Trek’s Klingon or Tolkien’s Middle-earth (which inspired real world uses of these languages). Succinctly, it makes us feel. And that is a power that should be embraced, nurtured, protected, and proliferated.

Now, this is not to advocate for disregarding formal academic writing as a whole. This is not a call to challenge a professor for stifling your creativity. There is a time and a place for pure fun and freedom, and—really—a research paper, a dissertation, or a scientific journal are not always the most appropriate sites for Tolkien’s Elvish or the word “lugubrious.” That’s okay. It can be symbiotic. We language-users still have an obligation and an ability to balance our teaching and communication with our capacity to entertain. Sometimes that means foregoing a pun or poetry (wordplay), but it doesn’t mean foregoing interest in your ideas and how you write them (rhetorical devices). Our world can be a worrisome place that requires our attention, compassion, and power whenever we can lend it. And, hopefully, we can use our voices to mend relationships, to empower those we care about, to stand against and maybe inspire those who feel silenced. To use your voice for good is all one can ask. So, I truly wish that your ongoing adventure through language brings you a greater sense of confidence in yourself, and I hope it also brings an appreciation for how genuinely, innately powerful our voices really are. And that doesn’t mean it’ll ever be perfect. As I said, you don’t need to be an “expert.” You just have to be human.

Thomas, Jean-Jacques and Warren F. Motte join. “Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature.” South Atlantic Review 53 (1988): 185.